Khushwant Singh

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Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh at a reading in New Delhi
Born Khushal Singh
(1915-02-02)2 February 1915
Hadali, British India (now in Khushab District, Punjab, Pakistan)
Died 20 March 2014(2014-03-20) (aged 99)
New Delhi, India
Occupation Journalist, writer, historian, critic
Nationality Indian
Alma mater St. Stephen's College, Delhi
King's College London
Spouse Kawal Malik
Children Rahul and Mala
Relatives Sobha Singh (father)


Khushwant Singh (born Khushal Singh, 2 February 1915 – 20 March 2014)[1] was an Indian novelist, lawyer, journalist and politician. Born and raised in Hadali, Punjab (now in Pakistan), he studied law at St. Stephen's College, Delhi, and King's College London. After working as a lawyer in Lahore Court for eight years, he joined the Indian Foreign Service upon the Independence of India from British Empire in 1947. He was appointed journalist in the All India Radio in 1951, and then moved to the Department of Mass Communications of UNESCO at Paris in 1956. These last two careers encouraged him to pursue a literary career. As a writer, he was best known for his trenchant secularism,[2] humour, sarcasm and an abiding love of poetry. His comparisons of social and behavioural characteristics of Westerners and Indians are laced with acid wit. He served as the editor of several literary and news magazines, as well as two newspapers, through the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1980-1986 he served as Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India.

Khushwant Singh was decorated with the Padma Bhushan in 1974.[3] But he returned the award in 1984 in protest against Operation Blue Star in which the Indian Army raided Amritsar. In 2007 he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India.[4]


Early life[edit]

Khushwant Singh was born in Hadali, Khushab District, Punjab (which now lies in Pakistan), in a Sikh family. His father, Sir Sobha Singh, was a prominent[citation needed] builder in Lutyens' Delhi. His uncle Sardar Ujjal Singh (1895–1983) was previously Governor of Punjab and Tamil Nadu. He was educated at Modern School, New Delhi, Government College, Lahore, St. Stephen's College in Delhi and King's College London, before reading for the Bar at the Inner Temple.[5][6]

His birth name, given by his grandmother, was Khushal Singh (meaning "Prosperous Lion"). He was called by a pet name "Shalee". At school his name earned him ridicule as other boys would mock at him with an expression, "Shalee Shoolie, Bagh dee Moolee" (meaning, "This shalee or shoolee is the radish of some garden.") He chose Khushwant so that it rhymes with his elder brother's name Bhagwant.[7] (He declared that his new name was "self-manufactured and meaningless". But he later discovered that there was a Hindu physician with the same name, and the number subsequently increased.)[8]


Khushwant Singh started his professional career as a practising lawyer in 1938. He worked at Lahore Court for eight years. In 1947 he entered Indian Foreign Service for the newly independent India. He started as Information Officer of the Government of India in Toronto, Canada. He was Press Attaché and Public Officer for the Indian High Commission for four years in London and Ottawa. In 1951 he joined the All India Radio as a journalist. Between 1954 and 1956 he worked in Department of Mass Communications of UNESCO at Paris.[9][10] From 1956 he turned to editorial services. He had edited Yojana,[11] an Indian government journal in 1951 -1953;[12][13] The Illustrated Weekly of India, a newsweekly; and two major Indian newspapers, The National Herald and the Hindustan Times. During his tenure, The Illustrated Weekly became India's pre-eminent newsweekly, with its circulation raising from 65,000 to 400000.[14] After working for nine years in the weekly, on 25 July 1978, a week before he was to retire, the management asked Singh to leave "with immediate effect".[14] A new editor was installed the same day.[14] After Singh's departure, the weekly suffered a huge drop in readership.[15]


From 1980 to 1986, Singh was a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 for service to his country. In 1984, he returned the award in protest against the siege of the Golden Temple by the Indian Army.[16] In 2007, the Indian government awarded Khushwant Singh the Padma Vibhushan.

As a public figure, Singh was accused of favouring the ruling Congress party, especially during the reign of Indira Gandhi. He was derisively called an 'establishment liberal'. Singh's faith in the Indian political system was shaken by the anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination, in which major Congress politicians are alleged to be involved; but he remained resolutely positive on the promise of Indian democracy[17] and worked via Citizen's Justice Committee floated by H. S. Phoolka who is a senior advocate of Delhi High Court.

Singh was a votary of greater diplomatic relations with Israel at a time when India did not want to displease Arab nations where thousands of Indians found employment. He visited Israel in the 1970s and was impressed by its progress.[18]

Personal life[edit]

Singh was married to Kawal Malik. Malik was his childhood friend who had moved to London earlier. They met again when he studied law at King's College London, and soon got married.[1] They had a son, named Rahul Singh, and a daughter, named Mala. Actress Amrita Singh is the daughter of his brother Daljit Singh's son - Shavinder Singh and Rukhsana Sultana. He stayed in "Sujan Singh Park", near Khan Market New Delhi, Delhi's first apartment complex, built by his father in 1945, and named after his grandfather.[19] His grandniece Tisca Chopra is a noted TV and Film Actress.[20]

Religious belief[edit]

Singh was a self-proclaimed agnostic, as the title of his 2011 book Agnostic Khushwant: There is no God explicitly revealed. He was particularly against organised religion. He was evidently inclined towards atheism, as he said, "One can be a saintly person without believing in God and a detestable villain believing in him. In my personalised religion, There Is No God!"[21] He also once said, "I don't believe in rebirth or in reincarnation, in the day of judgement or in heaven or hell. I accept the finality of death."[22] His last book The Good, The Bad and The Ridiculous was published in October 2013, following which he retired from writing.[23] The book was his continued critique of religion and especially its practice in India, including the critique of the clergy and priests. It earned a lot of acclaim in India, where such debates are rare.[24]


Singh died of natural causes on 20 March 2014 at his Delhi-based residence, at the age of 99. His death was mourned by many including the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister of India.[25] He is survived by his son and daughter. He was cremated at Lodhi Crematorium in Delhi at 4 in the afternoon of the same day.[2] During his lifetime, Khushwant Singh was keen on burial because he believed that with a burial you give back to the earth what you have taken. He had requested the management of the Bahá'í Faith if he could be buried in their cemetery. After initial agreement, they had proposed some conditions which were unacceptable to Singh, and hence the idea was later abandoned.[26] He was born in Hadali, Khushab District in the Punjab Province of modern Pakistan, in 1915. According to his wishes, some of his ashes were brought and scattered in Hadali.[27]

In 1943 he had already written his own obituary, included in his collection of short stories Posthumous. Under the headline "Sardar Khushwant Singh Dead", the text reads:

We regret to announce the sudden death of Sardar Khushwant Singh at 6 pm last evening. He leaves behind a young widow, two infant children and a large number of friends and admirers. Amongst those who called at the late sardar’s residence were the PA to the chief justice, several ministers, and judges of the high court.[28]

He also prepared an epitaph for himself, which runs:

Here lies one who spared neither man nor God;
Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod;
Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun;
Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.[29]

He was cremated and his ashes are buried in Hadali school, where a plaque is placed bearing the inscription:

'This is where my roots are. I have nourished them with tears of nostalgia ...[30]'

Honours and awards[edit]



  • Declaring Love in Four Languages, by Khushwant Singh and Sharda Kaushik, 1997
  • India: An Introduction, by Khushwant Singh
  • The Company of Women, (Novel) 1999[35]
  • Truth, Love and a Little Malice (an autobiography), 2002
  • With Malice towards One and All
  • The End of India, 2003[35]
  • Burial at the Sea, 2004[35]
  • Paradise and Other Stories, 2004[35]
  • A History of the Sikhs: 1469–1838, 2004[38]
  • Death at My Doorstep, 2005[35]
  • A History of the Sikhs: 1839–2004, 2005[39]
  • The Illustrated History of the Sikhs, 2006[35]
  • Why I Supported the Emergency: Essays and Profiles, 2009[35]
  • The Sunset Club, (Novel) 2010
  • Agnostic Khushwant: There is no God, 2012 ISBN 978-9-381-43111-5
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous, 2013 (Co-authored with Humra Qureshi)

Short story collections[edit]


Television Documentary: Third World—Free Press (also presenter; Third Eye series), 1983 (UK).[40]

See also[edit]

  • "Karma", a short story by Khushwant Singh


  1. ^ a b Subramonian, Surabhi (20 March 2014). "India's very own literary genius Khushwant Singh passes away, read his story". dna (Diligent Media Corporation Ltd.). Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  2. ^ a b TNN (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh, journalist and writer, dies at 99". The Times of India. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015. 
  4. ^ TNT (28 January 2008). "Those who said no to top awards". The Times of India. Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  5. ^ Khushwant Singh, Forward, in Aditya Bhattacharjea and Lola Chatterjee (eds), The Fiction of St Stephen's
  6. ^ Vinita Rani, "Style and Structure in the Short Stories of Khushwant Singh. A Critical Study.", PhD Thesis
  7. ^ Singh, Khushwant (19 February 2001). "The Kh Factor". Outlook. Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  8. ^ Singh, Khushwant (25 November 2006). "DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Press Trust of India (20 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh could easily switch roles from author to commentator and journalist". The Indian Express. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d e "Life and times of Khushwant Singh l". India Today. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  11. ^ "Yojana". Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ a b c Khushwant Singh (1993). "Farewell to the Illustrated Weekly". In Nandini Mehta. Not a Nice Man To Know. Penguin Books. p. 8. On 25 July 1978, one week before he was to retire, he was abruptly asked to leave with immediate effect. Khushwant quietly got up, collected his umbrella, and without a word to his staff, left the office where he had worked for nine years, raising the Illustrated Weekly's circulation from 65,000 to 400,000. The new editor was installed the same day, and ordered by the Weekly's management to kill the "Farewell" column. 
  15. ^ "Khushwant Singh's Journalism: The Illustrated Weekly of India". Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  16. ^ "Those who said no to top awards". The Times of India. 20 January 2008. Retrieved 5 November 2008. 
  17. ^ Singh, Khushwant, "Oh, That Other Hindu Riot of Passage," Outlook Magazine, November, 07, 2004 , available at [3]
  18. ^ Singh, Khushwant (18 October 2003). "THIS ABOVE ALL : When Israel was a distant dream". The Tribune. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  19. ^ "Making history with brick and mortar". Hindustan Times. 15 September 2011. 
  20. ^ "Grandniece Tisca Chopra remembers granduncle Khushwant Singh". IANS. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  21. ^ Nayar, Aruti. "Staring into The Abyss: Khushwant Singh's Personal Struggles With Organized Religion". Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  22. ^ Khuswant, Singh (16 August 2010). "How To Live & Die". Outlook. 
  23. ^ "Veteran Writer and Novelist Khushwant Singh passes away at 99". Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  24. ^ Tiwary, Akash (21 March 2014). "Khushwant Singh's demise bereaves India of its most articulate agnostic". The Avenue Mail. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  25. ^ "President, Prime Minister of India condole Khushwant Singh's Demise". IANS. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  26. ^ "Excerpt: How To Live & Die". Outlook India. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  27. ^ Train to Pakistan : 2014
  28. ^ Singh, Khushwant (16 October 2010). "How To Live & Die". Outlook. Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  29. ^ PTI (20 March 2014). "Here lies one who spared neither man nor God: Khushwant's epitaph for himself". The Hindu. Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  30. ^ Masood, Tariq (15 June 2014). "Khushwant Singh: The final homecoming". Tribune. Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  31. ^ a b "Khushwant Singh awarded Fellowship". King's College London. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  32. ^ "Khushwant Singh, 1915–". Library of Congress, New Delhi. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  33. ^ Mukherjee, Abishek. "Khushwant Singh and the cricket connection". The Cricket Country. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  34. ^ "Akhilesh honours Khushwant-Singh". The Times of India. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  35. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "Khushwant Singh". Open University. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  36. ^ Singh, Khushwant (1963). A History of the Sikhs. Princeton University Press. 
  37. ^ Singh, Khushwant (1966). A History of the Sikhs (2 ed.). Princeton University Press. 
  38. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2004). A History of the Sikhs: 1469–1838 (2, illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 434. ISBN 9780195673081. Retrieved July 2009. 
  39. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2005). A History of the Sikhs: 1839–2004 (2, illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 547. ISBN 9780195673098. Retrieved July 2009. 
  40. ^ "Third Eye: Third World – Free Press?". BFI. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 


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